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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

A pan-European drive for autonomous shipping

Tue 10 Jul 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

A pan-European drive for autonomous shipping
Norwegian technology will drive development of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships

The Hull to Hull project, Yara Birkeland, Aker Arctic model testing and a Finferries/Rolls-Royce project are propelling shipping towards an autonomous future

European research is pushing the boundaries of what is possible in autonomous shipping. The latest European-funded project, Hull to Hull (H2H), has started developing technology for safer navigation in congested waters and autonomous vessel operations by tracking vessels and objects that are in close proximity.

The Kongsberg-led project has moved from a concept definition phase to a technology adaption and testing stage. Initially, technology will be produced for improving navigation decisions by mariners when vessels are in congested waterways. However, this same technology could be adapted for autonomous vessel navigation.

Kongsberg Maritime director of autonomy Peter Due said H2H will use the European Global Navigation Satellite System, which includes the Galileo constellation, to enhance safety in busy waters and during close manoeuvring. “This will help mariners to take the correct navigation decisions and will create the fundamental conditions for autonomous vessel navigation,” said Mr Due.

Data can be used as an input to an autonomy controller. Other aspects involve setting proximity zones around vessels to detect neighbouring objects and measure the location and orientation of a vessel.

The H2H project will also create a 3D digital twin representing the vessel’s hull, linked to a co-ordinate system such as WGS84. Kongsberg Digital vice president and commercial manager Vigleik Takle said digital twins on its Kognifai platform are helping to shape the future of autonomous maritime operations. Machine-learning algorithms are trained by the simulation model to learn how to react to unexpected situations.

A live digital twin of a maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS) and other marine assets will augment safety and improve operational and logistical efficiency, said Mr Takle. Kognifai can deliver control of every single facet of an autonomous ship or fleet, on a single platform.

This can include power management, route planning and electronic chart updating, onshore control rooms and interoperability with national vessel traffic centres. Data can be used to optimise vessel operations and safely manage entire autonomous fleets.

Kongsberg is using this technology for the world’s first all-electric, emissions-free, autonomous container vessel, Yara Birkeland, scheduled to enter service next year to transport fertiliser products to two Norwegian ports, Brevik and Larvik, which is likely to be operated unmanned in 2020.

“Digitalisation will benefit the entire MASS value chain from vessel development through to marine operations and logistics,” said Mr Takle. “Integrated technology produces huge amounts of data that is necessary for safe operations, but also to further improve processes and technology.”

“Digitalisation will benefit the entire MASS value chain from vessel development through to marine operations and logistics”

Model testing in Finland in May confirmed autonomous ships can navigate around obstacles using onboard sensors and intelligent components. Aker Arctic tested a wireless model of a vessel at its facilities in Helsinki, Finland, to demonstrate how an autonomous ship would react to operating in congested waters.

Its ship model detected obstacles using onboard sensors and manoeuvred around them using an autonomous navigation module without input from an operator. It then moored itself automatically to a target pier.

This equipment was connected to an onshore monitoring centre using distributed intelligent vessel components (DIVEC), a network framework that provides a modern protocol for connecting devices and transferring data between them.

DIVEC provides an extensible and adaptable infrastructure that allows interfacing with third-party systems and components. The technology used in the autonomous ship model tests in the laboratory is also adaptable to semi- and full-scale prototypes.

Finnish passenger shipping group Finferries and Rolls-Royce agreed in May to jointly demonstrate remote and autonomous ferry operations. They intend to implement the findings from the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications research project, which finished at the end of 2017. These technologies will be considered in a new research project: Safer Vessel with Autonomous Navigation (SVAN).

Finferries will provide a ship as a testbed to demonstrate Rolls-Royce’s decision support and intelligent awareness technology. Rolls-Royce has already tested its intelligent awareness on a Stena Line ship in the North Sea and this is being trialled on a Mitsui OSK Lines passenger ferry in Japan.

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